Date: Tue, 10 Mar 2009 19:11:42 -0700
Subject: [ALL_STUDENTS] Resolution of February 19th Event
I am writing to provide you with information concerning the final resolution of the February 19th incident that took place at the Women’s Union. I also want to take this opportunity to address some of the questions I have received about how we arrived at our decisions, what lessons we can learn from this, and discuss some of the excellent suggestions from students in response to the call for a forum.
As I noted in my last email, as soon as the event was reported to us, my office began gathering information from our students who were present at the event, and we immediately turned to the CMC Dean of Students office so that they could gather information from their students. We gave CMC the names of the CMC students who were identified, and forwarded the account of the event we received; as explained to the CMC administrators, a primary concern was that their students videotaped at least a portion of the event without the consent of our students and continued even when they were asked to desist. At that same time, CMC and Pomona began a discussion of response options.
When an incident takes place at Pomona involving non-Pomona Claremont College students, our usual procedure is for the home campus of the students in question to talk with those students to gather information and offer their own perspective on the incident. Sometimes, this is the start of a process which will lead to a formal judicial process on the student’s home campus. We chose not to seek that route in this situation; while the students’ reported behavior broke the trust that we expect of one another as members of a community (especially in a place such as the WU and at an event where students were coming to share personal perspectives and experiences concerning abortion) we did not believe that the behavior neatly fell under the student code or other policies. Instead, the reported actions violated community trust, and as reported, potentially created safety concerns for our students, consequences that prompted us to consider a ban, especially as it related to the CMC student videotaping the event.
As Dean of Students, my top priority is the safety and wellbeing of our students. The CMC students’ actions included the act of videotaping which could very well have captured the images of all the participants in the room, exacerbated by concerns that the names and contact information of the participants were copied from the sign-in sheet. Further, according to the information we had at the time, the student did not stop videotaping when the speaker and other students repeatedly asked him to do so. The uncertainties about the manner and intent of the videotaping, and concerns that names and contact information had been captured, all resulted in a highly disturbing and disruptive situation for the student participants.
From February 20 through March 5th, my office was in continual contact with CMC. The information they gave us, at the time and following their own inquiry, was consistent with the information that was reported to our office. CMC supported the ban on the cameraman, and recommended that we ban a second student. We took their recommendation into consideration, and on March 3rd delivered letters to CMC for the two students notifying them that they were restricted from Pomona campus for all non-academic related activities.
Over this past weekend, I worked with the CMC staff, who reinitiated their efforts to gather information. The CMC Dean of Students and I met with the two students who had received the letters and viewed the videotape. Both CMC and Pomona now know that the speaker and other participants repeatedly told the CMC students that they had not given their consent to be videotaped, and that the CMC students did not stop videotaping even after hearing those statements. But, when the speaker finally explicitly asked the students to stop taping, the students complied.
There appears to have been a misunderstanding in this regard, as statements such as “I have not given you consent to videotape me,” often imply a request to desist such videotaping. That is how those statements were meant by the speaker and the students. We also recognize that others may not hear those statements as a request to stop videotaping. The CMC students did state that part of their purpose of videotaping the event was to show the tape to other audiences; however, the videotape itself shows only the speaker from Planned Parenthood, and not the other participants. Both CMC students have stated to me that they did not take down names or contact information of the other participants, nor did they intend to intimidate the students through their actions. Further, the videotape shows that while a series of questions asked by the CMC students may have interrupted the flow of conversation, they were not disruptive nor did they chill the free expression of ideas.
Based upon this additional information, we decided that the best course would be to rescind the letters. While the secretive manner in which the videotaping was performed was inappropriate and disrespectful, it did not rise to the level of justification for a ban given the additional context and clarification we later received. I believe that we should always be willing to listen and consider new information in any situation, and be prepared to change a decision because it is the right thing to do.
This situation has illuminated for us the need to reexamine our recording policy to see if it should be clarified or strengthened. We also will work with the other Colleges to clarify the processes we each employ when we issue bans, and the variety of reasons for which bans are issued. At this point, there is no written consortium policy regarding bans, and a written policy would be helpful. Finally, a lesson for us is that our administrative procedure should be revised so that even more specific information is obtained from the other campus in a situation of this kind, possibly including the presence of a Pomona dean when the other College’s dean questions the students involved in an incident.
Finally, in my last message, I suggested that we host a forum on abortion. A number of students, including students from the WU, VOX, and PSU, wisely suggested that we instead hold a forum on the questions and tensions that arise from our dual commitments – our commitment to providing safe, supportive spaces on campus for students to engage in respectful, personal, and challenging dialogue without fear of reprisal and our commitment to robust, open free speech and other student rights. What rights do student organizers have when they hold events that are open to everyone? What are our expectations as a community regarding respectful dialogue and respect for one another? What are our expectations and responsibilities in upholding free speech and supporting a wide diversity of views? I think these are all compelling and important questions for us as a community to consider. So, I would now like to invite you if you are interested in working on this forum to contact Dean Mooko. We will still consider hosting a forum on abortion during next semester.
In closing, I want to reiterate my appreciation to all the students who provided their comments and perspectives on this situation.
Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students
Professor of Politics
101 Alexander Hall
550 N. College Ave.
Claremont, CA 91711
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